Living With… Cupra Ateca

Jack Scotton, Iain Reid and Nick Lette
July 31, 2019

To mark our final month with the Ateca, carwow cameraman Jack summarises his 3,000-mile stint in our outgoing long-termer.

Price: £35,900 Price as tested: £37,830 Options: Comfort and sound package £1,930 

Month 6

The time has finally come…

The Cupra Ateca is going back to its rightful owner and I’m a little sad. Actually, no. That’s a lie. I’m not sad, since it’s being replaced by a rather lovely-looking SEAT Leon Cupra R ST ABT (yes, that name could do with some work).

In my time in the Ateca, I covered the best part of 3,000 miles. The more memorable of those were in its hopped-up ABT form with 350hp. It was a practical, quick and fairly economical daily but let’s not sing its praises too much: there are some downsides to the SUV body style it doesn’t share with its replacement. 

I tried and tried to have fun with the Ateca. In a straight line, it was great but, the more I drove it on country roads, the less I got on with it. Don’t get me wrong, I know it isn’t supposed to be a sports car, but it never felt that confidence-inspiring to drive at speed and the firmer suspension was a little annoying at times – even with the dampers in their most supple setting. 

I found the Ateca was always much happier on the motorway, munching through mile after mile with more than enough poke to easily overtake slower-moving traffic. I also really liked the seats. Ignoring the weird, fake carbon-fabric parts, they are really comfortable and less “tryhard”-looking than the sporty seats in our Skoda Kodiaq vRS long-termer. 

Obviously, fitting all my camera paraphernalia into the Ateca’s boot was never an issue. It made the perfect companion for filming on shoots, although I can’t help but feel that a similarly priced Volkswagen Golf R estate would do all the same things even better and also fix the Ateca’s shortcomings in the fun department. 

To sum up, I’ve enjoyed my brief Cupra Ateca ‘ownership’. It’s mega capable, practical and alarmingly quick, which gives me high hopes for what Cupra does in the future, considering this is their first car as a standalone brand. However, like 50% of marriages, my time with the Ateca has ended in a divorce (and got traded for a younger, sportier model). So, look out for updates on the Leon Cupra R. If you want to see more Ateca content, check out our videos on YouTube.

Month 5

This month I decided rather than keep banging on about Golf R estates and hauling my gear up and down the country, I thought I’d let you in on five things I have learnt about the Ateca in my time with it.

1. Lots of people look at it, I think some of them wonder what it is, some people worry about my mental state (after all, who in their right mind would modify a standard Ateca) and some people just think it looks awesome – me included, though I do prefer the Grey and bronze colour combo you can get

2. Driving an ‘SUV’ doesn’t have to be wafty and somewhat numb feeling, when we recently shot the new Mercedes GLE I was surprised at how soft and lazy everything felt. Yes, I know that isn’t meant to be sporty and a hoon to drive but it honestly made me wish I was driving the Ateca instead.

3. Lending it to someone might just be deadly, there is the possibility they will like it so much they try to shoot you instead of give you the car back.

Case in point…

4. The higher driving position is great for motorway driving, you notice when cars ahead have come to a halt just a few seconds before you would in a ‘normal’ height car and you can also lawd it over slower people when trying to make progress. 

5. Your pipes will go rusty if you don’t keep them clean. No that isn’t a euphemism or dirty joke. Really, they will go rusty! So clean them regularly with some metal polish.

So that’s five things I have learnt in my time so far with Ateca. At the time of writing this update it’s exactly a month until it goes back to Sea…. Cupra. CUPRA! And i’m secretly hoping they forget and let me keep it for a bit longer.

Month 4

Another month goes by with the Cupra Ateca and not a lot has changed, oh, apart from one thing – it’s now got more power!

In my last update there was talk of a race against a Golf R and despite sharing many of its components with the Golf, aerodynamic bricky-ness was the SEAT’s downfall, losing out to the VW by just a few car lengths.

So we reckoned we’d turn the tables by taking the Ateca to German tuning specialists ABT. ABT’s been tuning VWs and Audi’s for years now, so it makes sense that it now turns its hands to SEAT (er, we mean Cupra) products. One ABT ECU replacement later and the Ateca now has 350hp and an appetite for Golf Rs that’s neatly illustrated in the video above.

Oh, and in its few days under Seat’s custody the noise from the steering column also mysteriously disappeared.

While not handing out whippings to everyone’s favourite hot hatch, the SEAT’s been getting on with its more mundane duties, chiefly ferrying me and my kit up and down the motorway.  

Despite the extra power, fuel economy doesn’t seem to have been affected – sitting at a fairly consistent 30mpg. I have however developed a new bugbear with the Ateca, parking sensors that go crazy when another car gets within spitting distance of the rear bumper. Turning them off is easy, you just need to remember you’ve done it every time you’re reversing into a tight space.

As my time with the Cupra Ateca nears its end, I can’t help but feel indifferent about its leaving. If it was my own money I would probably get a Golf R estate – it would be just as practical but with the added benefit of sharper handling, that’s a problem even ABT can’t fix on the high-riding Ateca.

So, while the Cupra wins the battle, it’s the Golf R that emerges victorious from the war between the fast but practical family cars.

Month 3

Now that we’ve spent more time behind the wheel of our Cupra Ateca, the time has come for us to ask a rather difficult question – do you really need a high-riding, high-performance SUV, or are you better off with a hot hatch?

After all, the Cupra Ateca shares most of its oily mechanical bits with the cheaper VW Golf R yet, thanks to its heftier body and jacked-up suspension, it takes a few extra tenths of a second to complete the 0-60mph sprint (although we have a plan in the offing to fix this).

In all honesty, you’d struggle to notice this difference without breaking out a stopwatch, but it’s a shame that the Cupra Ateca’s high-riding body noticeably dulls your sense of speed. Barrelling along a country lane just doesn’t feel as fun when you’re sitting up high in a roomy family SUV as it does in a low-slung hot hatch.

That’s not to say the Cupra Ateca feels ungainly – in fact, it disguises its SUV roots very well indeed – but the ultra-stiff suspension required to stop its tall body leaning in tight corners makes it feel more jittery and less surefooted than many lighter, lower hot hatches. It certainly doesn’t inspire quite as much confidence on an unfamiliar road or in slippery conditions, despite having four-wheel drive as standard.

After fiddling with the customisable driving modes, we found that a combination of the most supple suspension settings and the sportiest engine and steering modes made for the most satisfying back-road blasts. But, it’s still hard to shake the feeling that you’d be having more fun if the Cupra Ateca was a little bit more Sport and bit less Utility Vehicle.

Once you’ve finished imitating Colin Mcrae and decide to head home, you’ll find the Cupra Ateca is still pretty unforgiving to travel in – even with the adaptive suspension in its most relaxed setting. Fail to spot a monster pothole until too late and you’ll feel a sharp thud through your seat. Things don’t really improve out on the motorway, either, where the Cupra’s huge alloy wheels and grippy low-profile tyres produce a loud and unpleasant rumbling noise.

But, part of the reason why you’d buy an SUV is because it’s more practical than a hatchback. In this respect, the Cupra Ateca trumps the likes of the VW Golf R and Audi S3. There’s more space in its back seats for tall adults and it’s easier to fit a child seat because you don’t have to stoop down low to strap in a child. You can fit more bulky luggage in its boot without having to fold the back seats down, too.

That being said, the Golf R Estate is roomier still, but there’s a definite pleasure to be found in blasting away from a set of traffic lights in a school run-sized SUV with a loud, antisocial burble emanating from its four huge exhaust pipes.

So, we’ve found out how this speedy SUV measures up to conventional hot hatches on a cross-country blast, but how does it compare when we take it for a spot of drag-racing? Stay tuned to find out…

Month 2

It has been a busy month for our Ateca Cupra. Having ferried the kids around with website editor Iain Reid on the weekend and drag raced a Golf R in the week (keep your eyes peeled on YouTube for that one) it now finds itself in the custody of cameraman Jack Scotton. A man that’s a fan of a big load.

Over to you, Jack:

He’s talking camera equipment, of course, and thanks to it’s huge boot opening, lack of load lip, square shape and flat floor, I’ve so far failed to find the Ateca’s potential wanting. Not bad for a car that’ll give a Golf R a run for its money in terms of performance.

What else do I like about the Ateca? Well, Android Auto for one. It means I can play Spotify tunes directly from my phone while simultaneously using the Waze sat-nav app on the car’s big centre screen. Although, it’s annoying you can’t beam the app’s maps onto the car’s digital instrument binnacle – if you want to do that, you’ll have to use the car’s inferior in-built nav.

It’s also a shame that the Ateca has developed on odd noise from its steering column – that acceptable in an old car like my E36 BMW 328i but not so brilliant on a brand new SUV worth almost £40,000.

It’s not all bad news though, the SEAT’s fuel economy hasn’t been as crippling as you’d expect for a 300hp car with the aerodynamics of a brick, the Ateca managing a solid 28mpg with just 2,500 miles on the odometer. You can expect that improve as that mileage increases and the engine loosens up.

It’s even better when you consider the Cupra Ateca is genuine fun to blast down some country lanes. And, while the adjustable sports suspension is firm, it’s no so fidgety that I can’t film out of the SEAT’s boot.

Kudos where it is due, the Cupra Ateca great fun to drive and very practical but does it strike this balance better than the VW Golf R, the undisputed king of practical performance? Find out in our next update.

Month 1

Having your cake and eating it seems a well-worn phrase these days but can you have your cake and eat it when it comes to choosing a car?

For those of us who dream of sports car performance but have to use a car for more mundane, practical family-carrying duties could the Cupra Ateca be the answer to our problems? Can you take the kids to their clubs, do the weekly supermarket run and the odd motorway schlep but still put a huge grin on your face when the opportunity presents itself? Over the next few months, we’ll discover all.

Putting the ‘Sports’ back into Sports Utility Vehicle, the car is based on the ultra-practical SEAT Ateca SUV, but with a 2.0-litre 300hp petrol engine under the bonnet. It comes with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox and four-wheel-drive. Choosing a spec for the car is easy – there’s only one well-equipped trim level and the decisions you do have to make are limited to a couple of equipment packs.

As standard, you get 19-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear windows, a subtle body kit and four exhaust pipes – so the Cupra undoubtedly looks sporty – while its roof bars mean it still retains a sensible side. The Nevada White metallic paint is standard too as are the more gimmicky puddle lights which shine the Cupra logo on the ground when you lock and unlock the doors.

Quick word about that Cupra logo. Why is it there? SEAT has decided to split its Cupra performance models from the rest of its range. The logo is supposed to be based on a tribal tattoo – midlife crisis anyone?  – and you get Cupra details outside and inside the car.

Speaking of which, the interior gets an 8-inch colour touchscreen with a proximity sensor, sat-nav, black Alcantara sports seats and a digital driver’s display in place of traditional dials. The sporty-but-practical theme continues as you scroll down the standard kit list: Park Assist (practical) Cupra sport suspension (sporty) Top view and rear view camera (practical) Cupra Drive modes (sporty).

The last on that list comprises of a dial next to the gear shifter and switches the car between six different drive modes. These alter things like the steering response and throttle response depending on how you want to drive the car. The modes are Comfort, Sport, Individual, Offroad, Snow and exclusive CUPRA mode.

We opted to skip the Design Pack, as tempting as copper wheels and brembo brakes were, as it would have added another £3,000 to a car that already costs more than £35,000. Still, the Comfort and Sound pack seems like a worthy addition. It costs £1,930 and for that you get an upgraded Beats audio system – an important upgrade for sing-alongs when you’re ferrying the kids about.

It also gets an electric tailgate and a kind of sub-pack called Advance Comfort and Driving Pack Plus. There’s some good stuff in here, such as traffic-sign recognition, lane assist, adaptive cruise control and high-beam assist – all handy safety features that are reassuring good-to-haves when you’ve got kids. Lastly, it gets heated front seats, which have been put to good use during the recent cold snap.

Specced up and ready to go, we’ve put a few hundred miles on the clock so far. Around town, it’s been mainly in Comfort mode, but that might just be a bit too relaxed. Coming out of busy junctions, the considerable power (all 300hp of it) takes a while to kick in so we’ll need to fettle the Individual model so we can get the comfortable ride, but quicken up the engine response a tad.

Fuel economy has been as expected – high 20s over a mix of in-town and faster roads driving. So, the cake looks good, we’ve had a nibble and it’s pretty tasty. Keep an eye out for more monthly updates on the Cupra as we find out just how agreeable living with an outrageously fast (but very practical family) car can be.